In the week since I last posted about Haroun, he has made steady progress. He has solidified his ‘silent reading’ and improved his comprehension. These skills need both practice and ‘soak in’ time, and our consistent daily two hours of practice is giving him both.
We started a new Goosebumps last Thursday. As before, we check-in at the end of each page and then retell at the end of each chapter (typically 2-3 pages). Retelling is hard for Haroun, he struggles with the sequence of chapter events even with the text in front of him.
Even with retelling, the story doesn’t seem to stick. Each morning I would ask ‘Where did we finish yesterday?’, and he can offer no suggestions, although with prompting it becomes clear that he remembers the previous day’s text in considerable detail. It is as if he doesn’t have a frame on which to organize the story in his mind, perhaps another skill that must be learned.
So for this book we added a new step – a written log of the key idea(s) in each chapter. Pulling out key ideas requires analysis of the re-telling step, and then holding those ideas long enough to write them down. I had to give him the key ideas for the first few chapters, but once he got the hang then I would only ask guiding questions to help him. And he started to figure out the key ideas by himself (not always).
Reviewing key ideas from the previous days chapters also provides him with triggers to recall the story. I suspect he soon won’t need this help – at least not for simple fiction like this, but I still take notes myself when reading non-fiction texts.
Yesterday I challenged him to something new – read the whole chapter to himself, and only then retell it and document the key ideas. We would be dropping the check-in on every page, so he would have one less review. I explained that he would have to self-monitor his comprehension to make sure that he understood, and that he might have to re-read if the story stopped making sense. Cleverly, he asked if he could take notes. Absolutely, why didn’t I think of that. I suggested he might prefer to underline in the book instead of taking notes, and that is what he chose.
At first, almost every thought or action underlined. But we’ve been doing this for two days, and already the amount of underlining has dropped sharply. He has figured out that descriptions of minor characters are unimportant, but not really sure what is important until he reads further ahead. Retelling is much easier since Haroun now simply scoops the underlined text, and key ideas also emerge more easily.
At this point, I quietly read my own book, modelling my love of reading, and breaking when Haroun is ready. My presence settles him down, I don’t think he would manage on his own. But the best part is that Haroun is aware that he is really reading, without help, for the first time in his life – a source of both pride and surprise.
So progress upon progress, one tiny step at a time, with hours and hours of practice. I don’t want to overstate Haroun’s skills: he is only reading 8-10 pages per day, and only from a grade-3 chapter book. He isn’t anywhere ready to read independently, and he has yet to try non-fiction. But he is improving steadily, we see a clear path ahead, and the plodding tortoise eventually wins every race.
Haroun demonstrates (yet again) that there is nothing wrong with most severely dyslexic students. They need intensive, systematic, sustained intervention to repair their reading skills deficit. But you won’t get that advice from your school, and certainly not any delivery of the necessary intervention.
Parents are starting to schedule IEP meetings for the coming year, and Facebook is full of advice on how to demand accommodations and supports from schools. Accommodations simply kick the problem down the road until it becomes too late. Pulling your struggling reader out of class for one or two hours per week of intervention is almost worthless – the gap between your child and his peers will continue to widen. Your child will be passed through yet another year, falling farther and farther behind. Unless you provide an intensive intervention outside school, nothing will change. Next year’s IEP meeting will have the same cheerful faces and the same suggestions.
You must NOT rely on your school to help your child. Almost every child becomes a strong competent reader with proper instruction. There is likely nothing wrong with your child, only missing skills that need to be taught explicitly and patiently, supported with daily practice sustained over months. There is no doctor in a white lab coat offering a pill. There is no magic font or coloured plastic filter that will teach your child to read. Your child will not outgrow his lack of reading, or develop any awesome skills that other kids envy.
Make this the year your child becomes a strong reader. It is a marathon. Start now.